Problems to watch for in old buildings

Not all houses are well built, and even those that are may have poorly constructed extensions. If you do have a building problem, remember, all problems have solutions (though some come with expenses and inconveniences).

Problems to watch for in old buildings

Problems with bracing

One common problem is where a house with timber walls has been built with little or no bracing, allowing the building to "rack".  Walls go out of square, which affects the opening and closing of doors and windows, and cracks sometimes appear in wall ­linings. The problems may get worse, as the weight of the roof pushes the structure further out of line. Cladding is not strong enough to stop this movement, and engineering advice will be needed on whether to pull the structure back into shape and brace it, or to stabilize it in its existing position.  Sometimes partial demolition may prove to be the only answer.

Roof framing in older houses is often inadequate when compared with modern buildings. If a roof has been designed for steel or metal, then replacing this material with tiles, which are about six times heavier, can severely stress the framing and require extra support timbers.

Waterproofing problems are caused by poor attention to detail when building, or perhaps lack of knowledge if the house is very old. These days wet areas, such as bathrooms and kitchens, are sealed to protect adjacent areas from damp problems. Similarly, at roof level, flashings and sarking protect against water entry during storms.

Electrical wiring issues

Some experts believe that any wiring over 45 years old is a potential hazard, as the insulation surrounding the wires may have deteriorated, and should be replaced as a matter of course. At the very least, the wiring of an old building should be checked by an electrician.

Never touch old wiring, as in some cases the insulation can fall apart, exposing live wires. Even if you decide that the wiring does not need to be replaced, consider installing a safety switch (also known as a residual currency device) in the meter box, as is now mandatory in most new buildings. These immediately shut off the power if electricity flows to earth – as it would if your body became part of the circuit.

In many old houses, the number and capacity of circuits is often inadequate. Get an electrician to determine whether the wiring can take the load you intend to plug in, and whether the main feeder wire to the house can safely supply the current needed.

Proper­ plumbing

Plumbing in country regions is often different to that used in cities. The water supply is collected from rainfall or from bores, and dual plumbing relying on either source may even be installed. This non-mains water is considered to be low pressure, and large, 25 millimetre diameter pipes are often required to achieve a reasonable flow. When buying appliances that use water, such as washing machines, dishwashers and hot-water systems, make sure they will operate on the water pressure you have available.

In time, old galvanized steel pipes corrode and block up, sooner rather than later if mineral-rich bore water is used. Replacement with copper piping may be an early renovation job.

Waterproofing shower leaks are a common and major problem. Even a small leak over time can cause underfloor timbers to rot, as well as causing damp problems in adjoining rooms. The shower must be properly sealed with a shower tray, and perimeter flashings should be installed to stop condensed steam or water that splashes out of the shower from penetrating the walls.

The potential for problems in old building exists, but with awareness and proper maintenance you can keep your older building looking its best.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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